LIHU‘E — Prevention Specialist Faith Harding has a short 20 minutes to meet, connect and educate her clients.
Twenty minutes is the time it takes to discover if a person has tested positive for hepatitis B and C.
When people come to Harding’s office at Malama Pono Health Services in Lihu‘e, she uses the 20 minutes to talk with her clients and discuss realistic changes they can make to be safe.
Whether it’s showing them how to use condoms, recommending lubricants (spermicidal lubricant lowers the risk of pregnancy) or informing them where to get a sterile syringe, Harding discusses realistic changes people can make to reduce the risk of harm to the community.
“People leave informed, they know their status and are armed with knowledge,” said Harding, who has been involved with Malama Pono since 2007. “It only takes one time, and these are all very preventable diseases.”
The services Malama Pono offers are anonymous and confidential and are available to people age 14 and older.
“We have no judgment here at Malama Pono,” Harding said. “We help people to be healthy and risk-free as much as possible without causing harm to themselves or others.”
Harding’s job as a prevention specialist is an “ongoing, enlightening process.”
“It’s not just a nine-to-five job,” she said. “I go out in the community, and people know me. I get stopped while shopping, and people come up to me and ask me all kinds of questions.”
But this doesn’t bother Harding. She has made it a priority to become accessible to all members of the community, whether its online messaging, chatting on Facebook or exchanging e-mails.
Out of the Malama Pono office, a staff of seven people work together to help community members receive the support and education they need, whether it’s counseling, HIV and Hepatitis testing or help obtaining medical and supportive services.
“We have choke knowledge about a lot of subjects,” Harding said. “And if we don’t know the answer to your question, we’ll find it and tell you.”
For Harding, 2010 has been a busy year criss-crossing the country attending classes and conferences about HIV prevention and harm reduction.
She spent a total of four weeks in Atlanta, Ga. as part of a nine-month training program offered by the Institute for HIV Prevention Leadership. She was one of two students from Hawai‘i accepted into the program, which may no longer be offered since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lost funding for the program.
From Nov. 18—21, Harding attended the 8th Harm Reduction Coalition National Conference in Austin, Texas.
Harm reduction is a prevention method designed to decrease the harm associated with drug use without requiring the user to stop taking drugs.
The conference had people from all walks of life participate in the four-day discussion, including drug users, ex-drug users, sex workers, social workers, prevention specialists, members from the Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the conference, when Harding shared that Malama Pono hasn’t had a person test positive for HIV in two-and-a-half years, someone in the conference room yelled to her “Go back to paradise.”
“We are so very lucky to have a supportive Department of Health after hearing the horror stories at the conference,” she said. “We have one of the longest needle exchange programs in the country.”
Last year, members from the CDC flew to Kaua‘i and visited Malama Pono and its partnering agencies (Kaua‘i Hospice and YWCA) because of its high success rate preventing AIDS, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted viral diseases. “We are like this beacon in the Pacific as a model agency.”
With the depressed economy, Harding says Malama Pono is in a very good position.
“We have contracts in place and we produce results,” she said. “HIV is not a death sentence. Drugs are easier to take and people are living longer, healthier lives.”
Malama Pono offers free, anonymous testing from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 246-9577 for more information.
• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@